How the West Was Worn

Some things on the American Frontier were hard to come by—especially clothes. Store bought cost too much and even if the wife sewed, she had to buy fabric. They mostly made do with just one or two changes of outfits, always reserving the best for Sundays.

Most women wore dresses of muslin, calico, or gingham. Only the wealthy wore silk and satin. Lace wasn’t that easy to come by either so most dresses were plain.

Due to the constant wind, the ladies would sew rocks or small pieces of metal into the hems to hold their skirts down. Can’t have the men seeing anything—not even ankles. Ha! On the plains, most women wore one simple petticoat. They didn’t want their clothes catching on fire when they cooked over an open flame.

 

Flour sacks provided material for underwear, dishtowels, children’s clothing, and lots more.

My mom used to tell us about one of daddy’s sisters who was real prissy. She was crossing a street one time and a gust of wind blew up her skirt. Everyone saw her flour sack underwear and emblazoned across her rear were the words: America’s Best. I always thought that was so funny. My prissy aunt really got kidded a lot I’m sure.

Now for the men—-

They usually owned just one extra set of clothes. They slept in longjohns and most wore them year round. In the summer, all the men needed to put on was a pair of pants (usually made of wool,) letting their longjohns serve as a shirt.

Denim came on the scene in 1873 when miners and others needed very sturdy pants. The designer was Jacob Davis and the popularity of his pants made it difficult to keep up with the demand. He contacted the Levi Strauss company and the rest was history.

Men’s shirts were usually made of broadcloth, muslin, or maybe twill. Flannel or wool in winter. Rich men wore lawn, silk, and poplin. They were usually collarless. You bought the collars separate and they were made of linen bonded to paper. They stood up around a man’s neck. You just threw them away when they got dirty. Also, most men wore vests back then.

A man’s hat set him apart from others. He could shape it however he wanted. A good Stetson was invaluable. Boots were a must and a lot of cowboys stuck their pant legs down into them.

Women added various little accessories to their dresses—gloves, fancy handkerchiefs, and things that didn’t cost a whole lot. Every woman wore a hat or bonnet and they ranged in price. Shawls were an absolute must.

Weddings were not very elaborate for the most part. The bride and groom wore their best. The wedding gown might’ve been made of muslin and she’d have worn it afterward as a Sunday dress. Seldom were they white like they are now. I just wrote a wedding scene in my new book and she had on a plain yellow dress. I don’t think I would like to have worn gray. Nope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things were simple back then. Nothing could interfere with work and they toiled every day from sunup or before to sundown or after. There was so much to do.

Which article of clothing caught you by surprise? Anything?

I’m giving away a copy of TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER to three people who leave a comment.

 

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About LindaBroday

I’m a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance. I love stories of the old West and the people who once lived there. I haunt libraries and museums and can hang out in them for hours. To tell all the stories that are in my head would take a lifetime.

Comments

How the West Was Worn — 94 Comments

  1. Hi Linda! Oh I can’t imagine wearing the dresses in the heat! Were they able to wear sleeveless? The undies you described had me itching . That’s so uncomfortable using burlap! I loved this article and others on the history. It’s fun to learn and then read one of your books and remembering you explaining so much! Thanks for all you do! Cathie (Caffey)

    • I don’t think the flour sacks were made of burlap back then. It was more of a cotton fabric that had a pattern on it

      • Hi Lorrie…..Yes, the flour sacks were made of a cotton fabric. It was very soft after it was washed. Women used them for lots and lots of things.

        Thanks for coming!

    • Hi Cathie…..great to see you. Of course, I remember you. I agree about those dresses. And no, they didn’t wear sleeveless unless it was a ball gown. Regular everyday dresses always had a sleeve of some sort. And Lorrie is right. The flour sacks were made of a cotton material, not burlap. After the first washing it was very soft. I’m so glad you like reading what I write and the historical detail I put into each one. I hope you’re doing well. Good luck in the drawing!

      Hugs and much love!

  2. I really enjoy your research posts, Linda. I learn a little something each time you share your knowledge. I had no idea that the women sewed rocks or pieces of metal in the hems of their dresses to keep gusts of wind from lifting their skirts. Resourceful, for sure.

    • Hi Alice…….Great to see you. I love history and always find details to put into my stories to make them come alive more. Yes, those poor women weren’t allowed to show anything and they had to get resourceful since the wind was a constant pain. George Custer’s wife did this.

      Love you lady!

  3. The sewing of rocks in the bottom of the skirts, didn’t know that. I had wondered how they kept there dresses from blowing up. That would also make even a simple dress heavier to wear. Sure glad we don’t have to wear all the petticoats.

    • Morning Veda……I’m so glad you could stop by. And I’m pleased you liked my post. Learned something too in the bargain. You’re right I”m sure about the heaviness of the dresses. Those poor women! I think I’d die if I had to lug around rocks and all those heavy petticoats. Good grief!

      Love you, lady!

  4. Good morning Linda- I loved all of your articles picture, but the one about your aunt just made my entire day, that one was so comical. But I guess the one that probably caught my attention was the fact that the women sewed rocks in the bottom of their dresses to keep the wind from blowing them up, living here on the plains with all these winds, I can see where that would be a problem day in and day out, so what a very smart move these ladies made. I Always love all your articles you are a pillar in delivering great historical facts for all of us. You have a fantastic wonderful day and keep sending this fantastic wonderful stories. Love you sister friend.

    • Good Morning, Miss Tonya……I’m glad my post was interesting. That aunt of mine was really a prissy lady so she got brought down a bit from her high horse. My mom just laughed and laughed over that story. And this was in the 1920s or 30s and common women still didn’t have decent underwear. Hard to believe we had to struggle for so long. I found the rocks in the dress hems very interesting too.

      Love you back, sister friend!

    • Hi Allison……Thank you for coming. So happy to have you. You know, I love those clothes too. They were very stylish. But I wouldn’t have liked all those petticoats and them clinging to my legs in the summer heat. But they were very pretty. I wish women today wouldn’t show off everything they have. Even the prostitutes in the 1800s wore more clothes than most people today. Strange but true. And people back then were scandalized. Ha!

      Hugs and Good luck in the drawing!

  5. I’very watched alot of westerns on TV, (that is all that my husband watches) so most of this information I al ready knew. The underwear made out of flour sacks I didn’t know. I knew they used them for kitchen towels, curtains, etc. I can understand them using theither fabric that their four came in. In those days, nothing was wasted

    • Hi Lorrie……Thanks again for coming. I’m a huge fan of TV westerns since I was very young. I loved how the men stood up against the bad guys. Men today are a little wimpy. I doubt they could’ve survived back then. Oh goodness yes, those women made everything out of those free flour sacks. I failed to mention aprons and quilts too, but they used flour sacks for those. You’re absolutely right about those pioneers not wasting one thing. They found a use for everything.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  6. Clothing was very interesting et I enjoyed the articles, ty for the chance at giveaway

    • Hi Aline……Thank you so much for coming. I’m very happy you enjoyed my blog. The clothing was very interesting to say the least and I barely scratched the surface.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  7. Flour sack underwear? Ok I never thought I always admired the dresses of the west before and I do love when a cowboy has on a Stetson but I never knew the women underwear were made of flour sack

    • Good morning, Natasha…….Thank you for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Seems you learned a little bit too about flour sack underwear. Yes, ma’am! Give me a cowboy in a Stetson and boots and I’m all his. I’m very grateful I live here because cowboys are the norm and these modern ones still have the manners and respect of their elders.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

    • Hi Becky……Thank you for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

      Hugs and Good luck in the drawing!

    • Hi Babs…..Thank you for coming. I’m delighted that you enjoyed my post. Those women couldn’t be caught indecent. No way.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  8. Wearing longjohns year round would sort of defeated the purpose of wearing them for warmth in the winter, don’t you think? A large part of the West was hot.

    • Hi Sandra…….Thank you so much for coming. I agree about those longjohns but a man’s choices were pretty limited. Maybe even more so than the women. Everyone back then just wore way too many clothes. Truth be told, I’m sure those men stripped down whenever they could and no women around.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  9. I was amazed by women sewing things in the hem of their dresses. I did not know that but it makes perfect sense. Flour sacks had so many uses and what a better slogan, “America’s Best” , for your prissy aunt. I love it!
    Thank you for the giveaway opportunity and have a great day!

    • Hi Melanie……..Thank you so much for coming! I love seeing you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It was fun and I loved including that little story about my prissy aunt. It was so funny and if I remember right, America’s Best was in red ink. It’s funny how the words ended up going across her rear. But it was perfect.

      Hugs and good luck in the giveaway!

  10. It came as a surprise to find that cowboys didn’t have denim jeans. They do in the movies. 🙂 Love the pictures of the dresses. I’ve always thought they were beautiful, even the plain ones – the way they’d gather them up and make a bustle gave them a certain elegance. Great post!

    • Hi Dear Sister…….Nope, cowboys didn’t wear denim until much later. They didn’t like the stiffness of the fabric. And denim pants weren’t like today with the soft pre-washed kind. Those were stiff as a board. But the miners loved them because they didn’t wear out. I love the dresses too. There were so many pretty styles that flattered the figure.

      Big hugs and blowing kisses, sister! Love you.

  11. Great post Linda, I don’t think I would want to wear flour sack underware but I guess you do what you have to do. Don’t enter me because I have read the book.

    • Hi Quilt Lady……Thank you for dropping by. Flour sack underwear was probably better than having none at all. And like you said, you did what you had to do. I hope you enjoyed Sam’s story.

      Big hugs, my dear!

  12. It amazes me the talent these women had to sew their own clothes and piece beautiful quilts, it is diffently becoming a lost art in some areas. I love reading your books and can’t wait to start this series. You are a very talented writer. Please keep writing

    • Hi Tiffany…….Thank you for coming. I love seeing you. Women back then had to learn to do everything. My mom who was born in 1917 knew how to sew, quilt, crochet, and knit, but she didn’t teach me anything except sewing. And a lot of women had to card and spin their own wool. Talk about work! Yikes. Gives new meaning to the words “A woman’s work is never done.” It truly wasn’t. All of that is really becoming a lost art as you said. My girls don’t even know how to sew on a button or fix a ripped seam. And they have no desire to learn.

      I appreciate you saying that you like my books. That’s very sweet. I hope some day I can learn how to transfer what’s in my head onto paper. I only half succeed and it’s frustrating. I don’t think I will ever able to stop writing so you don’t have to worry. This isn’t a job to me. It’s relaxation and fun. I laugh and cry right along with my characters. It’s a wonder I haven’t been locked up. Ha!

      Hugs and good luck in the drawing!

  13. The rocks in the hems. Although it makes sense, I just never thought about it. I think Queen Elizabeth does that also.

    • Hi Kate……Thanks for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I think you’re right about Queen Elizabeth. Women have done it for a long time I think, especially the royals who carried/still carry the burden of such huge expectations.

      Hugs and good luck in the drawing!

  14. I didn’t know about the rocks in the hems of the dresses, which makes sense because I always wondered why dresses didn’t fly every whichaway. I also didn’t know about the single petticoat because of fire, nor that men wore longjohns in the summer for shirts because that must have hot! I did, however, know about the use of flour sacks because my mom was a little girl during the dust bowl in Oklahoma and the Depression. Thank you for the opportunity to win your latest book!

    • Hi Eliza…….Thanks for coming. I love seeing you. Glad you liked my post. But you know people made do with whatever they had to back then. The luxuries were few and far between. Having food and place to lie down took precedent over everything. Those flour sacks sure came in handy. I’m sure the ladies were thrilled with each new design that came out. The Depression taught us a lot about fortitude and scrimping by with so little. To the day she died, my mom saved everything.

      Hugs and Good Luck!

  15. The flour sack underwear was a new one for me! I’m going to have to ask my grandma about that!

    • Hi Dawn……Thanks for coming. So happy to have you and glad you enjoyed my post. I’m sure your grandmother knows a lot about flour sack underwear.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  16. I’m also intrigued like Jan that it was that late before denim was used. Again thanks for all this wonderful tidbit of info.

    • Hi Tonya……Denim has an interesting history. No one except the miners liked wearing it. It was so different from today’s soft pre-washed. The early denim was as stiff as a board. Men, especially cowboys, had to move easily. I guess the miners didn’t move around very much. They stayed in one spot panning for gold.

      Love you!

  17. I wondered how the dresses were kept from flying up in the wind. Now I know. Thank you for all the info. Very interesting. I have enjoyed all your books that I have read.

    • Hi Donna…….Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m very glad you enjoyed my post and I could share something you didn’t know. Bless you for liking my books. That touches me. I said from the very beginning if I could touch one person’s heart with something I write I’ll consider myself a success. I’ve gotten that many times over from the readers who write me.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  18. I’m surprised about the men’s collars. You gave great information about their clothing. I haven’t had the opportunity to read your books due to my disabled finances. Thank you for this great giveaway.

    • Hi Barbara…….Thank you so much for coming. I love having you stop by. Those men’s collars must’ve been awfully uncomfortable. It would’ve been like having a piece of cardboard around your neck. Very stiff. Yet, it was the fashion so men did, usually just on Sunday’s for church. I understand about your limited means. Good luck in the drawing!

  19. the flour sacks for underwear was new to me-America’s best-that was funny. I had never heard about the rocks or small pieces of metal into the hems of dresses to hold their skirts down.

  20. Hi Vicki……..I’m so glad you came and that you enjoyed my post. I almost didn’t share that story about my aunt but I’m glad I did. I’m sure she’s rolling over in her grave. The rocks and other heavy items women sewed in their hems was necessary in keeping their dress down. Otherwise, they’d have spent all their time fighting with it.

    Good Luck in the drawing!

  21. Thanks for the historical clothing facts. I sew my own clothing, so this is very fascinating to me!!

    • Hi Elizabeth…..Thank you for coming. I’m so glad you stopped by. You must be very talented. I used to sew quite a bit when I was young but not much anymore. I liked creating something pretty but I didn’t like making buttonholes. Those were hard.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  22. It hard to understand how cowboys could wear long-johns with wool pants in warm weather, but if that’s all they had, they probably grew used to it. That’s sure a funny story about your aunt. One of my favorite funnies from when I was a kid was going roller skating with the church, and the pastor’s wife fell on her bottom, and her wig popped off her head and rolled across the floor. 🙂 Needless to say, many of us were snickering.

    • Hi Vickie…..So happy you stopped by. I think if you got used to something, you wouldn’t notice it anymore. It’s a wonder they didn’t have a heat stroke though. Your story was funny. I’m sure she was so embarrassed. But you kids got a laugh out of ît.

      Hugs, sweet lady!

  23. Thanks for all the great information. I was surprised to learn about the collars that the men wore and that they were made to be disposable. It was also interesting to learn that the women sewed rocks into the hems of their skirts to keep them down in the wind. I had heard of women sewing gold coins into the hems of clothing to keep them from being stolen.

    • Hi Darlene……Thanks for coming. I’m glad you liked my post and learned something too. You’re right about women sewing money and other valuables into their clothing. That was a pretty common practice.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  24. I find it interesting that the men’s shirts were made out of better fabric than the women’s dresses.

    • Hi Jackie……Thank you for coming. Your observation is interesting. I think the main reason for that was that the men wouldn’t wear the flowered calico. But who knows?

      Hugs and good luck in the drawing!

  25. So glad I live now and not then, thinking about washing and ironing all those clothes makes me tired. I much prefer our easier life.

    • Hi Teresa……You’re so right. I’m glad too. I can’t imagine washing those long dresses and petticoats. And the hems were always dirty because they drug the ground. Then after you washed them, you had to iron them. Good grief! I’m tired thinking about it.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  26. I like the dresses they wore by then but only to look at. I’m happy we live now and don’t have to wear them every day.

    • Hi Annette……Thank you for stopping by. I agree that the dresses were pretty. I’m not sure I’d like to wear them all the time either. They’d be really hot in the summer.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  27. My question is
    What was considered a “fancy handkerchief”. To me that would mean embroidered or with lace on them or of fine linens. How could most women afford them?

    • Hi Joye……Thank you for coming. A fancy handkerchief was one with lace or embroidery. Or it might have an initial. It didn’t take much to make those women happy. And to answer your other question, plain handkerchiefs were not that expensive and they added their own embellishments.

      Hugs, Lady, and good luck!

  28. Hi Linda – Loved your blog about the western clothing. The underwear is what I was amazed at. Those flour sacks must not have been too comfortable. And the men’s throw away collars. You always have a lot of research that is interesting. It was rough living back then. No, I wouldn’t have the grey for a wedding gown either.

    • Hi Lois……Thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. The flour sack underwear was not that bad. It would’ve felt like wearing a dish towel. Certainly better than nothing. You’re right about it being rough back then. We probably don’t know the half of ît. No gray wedding gown. Nope.

      Hugs and Good Luck!

  29. The fact that flower sacks were used to make underwear I had heard of them being made into dresses but never underwear.
    I am so excited about your book on Houston can’t hardly wait to read it

    • Hi Glenda…….I’m glad you stopped by. Always great to see you. I think those people ûsed flour sacks for any and everything. It was about all they had that was readily available. You won’t have long to wait for Houston’s book. I think you’ll really like it.

      Hugs and have a great evening, my dear!

  30. I really surprised about putting rocks in the hem of the dresses. I had never given it any thought even though I know Queen Elizabeth is reported to put something in her hems to keep them down. My grandmother as a young girl in the early 1900, lost a sister when her dress tail went into the fireplace; she burned to death very quickly. They were all excited, the first train was coming to our town and she was so excited, twirling round and moving alot, she got to close to the fire. An exciting day of adventure turned into a nightmare quickly.

    • Hi Vera…….I’m so glad you stopped by and that you enjoyed my post. What a horrible story about your grandmother’s sister! I can’t imagine their horror. That happened fairly often from what I’ve heard. Just horrible.

      Hugs and Good Luck!

  31. I was really surprised about putting rocks/metal in the hem of the dresses. I had never given it any thought even though I know Queen Elizabeth is reported to put something in her hems to keep them down. My grandmother as a young girl in the early 1900, lost a sister when her dress tail went into the fireplace; she burned to death very quickly. They were all excited, the first train was coming to our town and she was so excited, twirling round and moving alot, she got to close to the fire. An exciting day of adventure turned into a nightmare quickly.

  32. No surprises, I love watching old westerns! I did get a good chuckle at your aunts’ America’s Best drawers though!!! 🙂

    • Hi Robin……..Thank you for coming. I sure miss those westerns. At least we have reruns. Glad you enjoyed my story. That aunt lived an interesting life. She sure loved her men!

      Hugs and Good Luck!

    • Hi Angela……..Thanks for coming. About those women….where there was a will, there was a way. 🙂

      Good Luck in the drawing!

    • Hi Christina…….Thanks for coming. I’ve wondered the same thing. I’ll bet it was hot.

      Good Luck in the drawing!

  33. The collars not being attached to anything threw me off. I didn’t realize they did that. I enjoyed your post. I learned something new.

    • Hi Sonya……..Thanks for coming. I’m glad to see you. Those collars must have been a real pain. I don’t know how they kept them in place. I’m sure it was difficult. I’m happy you enjoyed my post.

      Good luck in the drawing.

    • Hi Kathy……Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my post.

      Good Luck in the drawing.

  34. I think about the men wearing wool pants even in the summer time. That must have been very hot with working in the fields in the heat,

    • Hi Cynthia……Thanks for coming. I’m happy you liked my post. I hate wearing wool. Those pants would’ve been really scratchy. Good grief! And yes as you pointed out — hot. They didn’t really have a lot of choices. Leather ones would’ve been just as bad. I’ll bet their legs chafed a lot!

      Hugs and Good luck in the drawing on Saturday!

    • Hi Bn100……..Wow, great to see you. It’s been a while. I hope you’ve been well and reading lots of books. The men’s clothing was interesting. Way too hot and stiff. I’ll take our fabric of today. Anything permanent press because I hate to iron!!

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  35. I did not that the women sewed rocks or pieces of metal in the hems of their dresses to keep gusts of wind from lifting their skirts.

    • Hi Mary C……….Glad to have you. Appreciate you coming. I found that bit of information about the rocks interesting as well. They took modesty a bit too far sometimes.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  36. Hadn’t heard about the rocks in the hems and really hadn’t thought about Flour sacks for underwear.

    • Hi Deanna……..Very happy to have you come. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Quite a few things caught readers by surprise.

      Hugs and good luck in the drawing!

  37. This was the book that changed my life. I didn’t think I’d ever read again. I spent years with horrible concentration and hadn’t tried reading again until I was sent this book and fell in love with reading all over again. I love way Linda Broday draws you in quickly and keeps you wanting more.

    • Hi Stephanie…….Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m really touched that To Love a Texas Ranger got you reading again. Since I also struggle with MS issues, I know how hard it is concentrating at times. Thank you for trying to read again. You’re in a special place in my heart. Keep reading and finding joy in living. Often we overlook the small things that have big impacts on our lives. We get too busy looking for the big things.

      I love you, girl! 🙂

  38. Oh so interesting!!! I love that they sew rocks or small pieces of metal into the hems to hold their skirts down! And the flour sacks for sewing…wow! So neat!

    • Hi Laurajj………I’m very happy to have you. Thanks for coming. I just love finding these little tidbits that add great detail to my stories. I call them golden nuggets.

      Hugs and Good Luck in the drawing!

  39. Wonderful post on the clothes worn in the later 1800s, Linda. And I loved the excerpt that you shared of your new book. It really makes me want to read it. So much emotion! Don’t add me to the drawing. Just wanted to stop by and say hi!

    • Hi Kathryn…….Thanks for coming. I love having you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post about the clothing. Also happy you enjoyed the excerpt of my upcoming book.

      Love and hugs!

  40. Historical fashion is a fascinating topic. Many of the women’s clothing just seems so hot and uncomfortable. Excellent article, Linda!

    Don’t enter my name in the drawing because I have already had the pleasure of reading this book!

    • Hi Cheryl C………I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. I think it’s fascinating too and I love looking back and seeing how far we’ve come. Yes, hot and probably uncomfortable. How in world did those women who wore hoop skirts go the outhouse??? Can’t imagine.

      Hugs! I hope you enjoyed the book.